Subaru’s XV Hybrid is a compact 4WD crossover with a difference, not to mention its greenest car yet

What is it?

This is Subaru’s first-ever production hybrid, launched in Japan earlier this year, also on sale in the US and now under evaluation for the UK.

Subaru has taken the current shape Subaru XV crossover and converted it to hybrid duty by discreetly fitting an electric motor within the car’s Lineartronic CVT transmission.

2016 Geneva Motorshow update: Next generation Subaru XV concept revealed

At the back, beneath the boot floor, sits a Sanyo nickel-metal hydride battery pack and inverter all as one unit.

Anyone looking to make a visual statement with the ‘Hybrid’ badge may be disappointed as to look at the XV hybrid is pretty much standard issue. 

In Japan, a new ‘Plasma Green Pearl’ body colour identifies the XV Hybrid, at a glance. So does a unique set of aluminum 17-inch wheels. But that’s about it. In the back, you’re getting just the same degree of luggage space as per a conventional XV so you could say this is a new green-themed XV without compromises.

Under the bonnet lies Subaru’s iconic flat-four 2.0-litre engine, here non turbo, and lightly fettled to reduce friction. It’s tuned for 148bhp and links to Subaru’s Lineatronic CVT which gets a 6-speed manual paddleshift, too.

Also included is Subaru’s trademark Symmetrical 4WD, thus giving the XV Hybrid a unique market edge on home turf.

The motor itself is good for 14bhp and the XV Hybrid clocks 54 mpg on Japan’s economy cycle.

That’s a 20 per cent improvement over a comparable non-hybrid XV in Japan and C02 emissions also reduce from 147 to 122 g/km, making this Subaru’s greenest model yet.

What's it like?

In Japan spec, the XV hybrid seems well set up for local road conditions. That’s to say, largely urban-based driving at relatively low speeds where the motor-assist hybrid system and the electric motor in particular can do their stuff.

At the press of a button, the Subaru’s flat-four engages with that endearing whirring sound. As you drive, you find the electric motor will cut in and out unobstrusively on demand and from standstill, you can run up to 20 mph on battery power alone, up to about one mile.  Naturally, stop/start is part of the package, too.

As set up for Japan, the XV hybrid is unusually refined, with very low road and mechanical noise. But there’s no specific EV mode that you can engage (as you can with a Prius) and despite the Boxer engine’s 150ps, aided by the electric motor’s 13.6 ps, the car is not that fast or dare one say it, all that exciting.

Driven gently, the XV is fine but for that sudden burst of overtaking acceleration, you really miss the lugging torque (258 lbft) of the UK’s XV Boxer diesel. Also the whining nose if the CVT on full chat is less than appealing although at the wheel, the 6-speed paddleshift is both sharp and precise.

You see, the XV Hybrid is relatively heavy, up to 150-160 kgs heavier than a comparable non hybrid XV in the home market, and heavier even than a UK XV diesel.

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While Subaru isn’t quoting any performance figures, 0-60 mph feels like it would come up in around 9 secs. Top speed? Maybe 120 mph at a push, but of course performance is not what this car is all about.

Even so, it would be good to have more incisive handling and sharper feel at the wheel because in home tune, the XV Hybrid is unmistakeably soft, rolling easily on the onset of a turn and with vague over-centre feel at the wheel.

While there’s plenty of grip and traction and the XV's long travel suspension is unchanged for off-roading (ditto the high ground clearance), dynamically, it would surely need some rethink for Europe.

So does it work? Well, the hybrid technology is seamless and well packaged. Inside, the instrumentation is clear and sharp, while the multi-function display showing the continual energy flow between engine, motor and battery is endlessly fascinating. 

But this gave us a 34.5mpg read-out driving through Tokyo and on the run out to Mt Fuji and back, so well down on that headline mpg rating. In round figures, there’s also a £1770 price premium for the Hybrid in Japan, so not for the first time, you have to pay extra to go green.

Should I buy one?

You can’t, not officially as yet in the UK, but in Japan, where ‘hybrid’ is a kind of the fashion, the XV Hybrid gives Subaru a belated intro into the hottest action in the market.

In the big picture, this seems something of a low-key, low-risk entry into the hybrid world on Subaru’s part.  Which in a way, is fair enough as Fuji Heavy, Subaru’s parent company, is relatively small with nothing like the resources of a Toyota or Honda.

Tellingly, so far, Subaru is not selling the XV Hybrid and XV Boxer diesel side by side in the same market. On paper, the Hybrid has the better eco numbers (mpg and C02) although how well it would be suited to the cut-and-thrust of the M25 and European driving conditions versus the diesel is another matter.

Then again, with this compact crossover 4WD hybrid, and with Boxer engine power also in situ, Subaru has something unique in the market.  You can definitely see the appeal.

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While it might not be absolutely as state-of-the-art as the latest crop of eco cars go (no lithium-ion battery, for example), it’s nevertheless a new and welcome intro by Subaru which, as many of its cars do, is out there saying something different.

Subaru XV Hybrid

Price ¥2.782 million (£16,762 approx); 0-62 mph 9.0sec (set); Top speed 120mph (set); Economy 53.67 mpg; C02 122g/km; Kerb weight 1540kgs; Engine 4 cyls, 1995 cc, petrol hybrid; Power 148bhp at 6000 rpm (engine) 14bhp (electric motor); Torque 145lb ft at 4200 rpm; Gearbox 6-speed Lineatronic CVT

Peter Nunn

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tokyojo 5 January 2014

XV hybrid

Drove the hybrid couple moths ago here in Tokyo, the first thing that surprised me was the FB engine only has 145hp thats 5hp less than my 08 legacy. the salesman said this was done to in crease fuel economy, the new engine has chain driven camshafts which is good, drove very nice steering brakes as usual very good, not over powerd id prefer the TD engine which isnt available in japan and also id say its only a light hybrid so im not convinced the hybrid is the way to go for the extra money the hybrid costing 16,000 pounds the non hybrid just over 12,000 pounds, Ive drove a subaru for the past eight years here and in New Zealands southern alps terrain but im sorry to say the honda Vezel is a better car for tokyo with a 1.5l engine and 175hp with a real hybrid system returning 27k per litre!! awd looks great with a plush cabin too.. not the fastest but felt lovely to drive im not a fan of cvt but this one worked very well .
russ13b 17 December 2013

i mean... what if...

what if you bought a car which was supposed to do 40mpg, but in reality only did 20? would you be ok with that, or would you take it back saying it's broken?
typos1 16 December 2013

Pointless, what they should

Pointless, what they should do is mate the hybrid drive train to the diesel angine and bingo, better figures than the petrol, diesel or petrol hybrid and faster acceleration due to increased torque etc, its not rocket science.
DVB99 21 April 2016

Re: Pointless, what they should..

It isn't pointless, some people would be interested.
I would not want a diesel for our family car as it does a lot of short in-town runs, and because a diesel spews out so many harmful gases etc..

A petrol hybrid would in theory reduce fuel consumption by a bit, reduce the road tax bill and be generally cleaner

DVB99 21 April 2016

Re: Pointless, what they should..

It isn't pointless, some people would be interested.
I would not want a diesel for our family car as it does a lot of short in-town runs, and because a diesel spews out so many harmful gases etc..

A petrol hybrid would in theory reduce fuel consumption by a bit, reduce the road tax bill and be generally cleaner